"A critical comparison of Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza's notion of Christian ministry as a 'Discipleship of Equals' and Mercy Amba Oduyoye's notion as a 'Partnership of both men and women
Abrahams, Lutasha Ann-Louise
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This thesis is based on the recognition that there are similarities and differences between two notions of Christian ministry, that is, a “discipleship of equals” as defined by Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (1989) and a “partnership of both men and women” as defined by Mercy Amba Oduyoye (1990). In this thesis, Christian ministry is assessed through the perspectives of both feminist theology and African women’s theology. The question which is addressed here is how the similarities and differences between Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s notion of Christian ministry as a “discipleship of equals” and Mercy Amba Oduyoye’s notion of Christian ministry as a “partnership of both men and women” should be understood and assessed. The main purpose of this thesis is to offer a critical comparison of these two female theologians so as to encourage new visions of Christian ministry in the contemporary church and society. To accomplish this task, a literature survey of books, essays, and articles published on the subject of Christian ministry in feminist and African women’s theology by African and Western theologians, between 1960 and 2003, was conducted. Two notions of how Christian ministry should be understood are offered. Fiorenza emphasizes that both women and men need to be recognized as disciples of Christ who can equally, yet within diversity, minister to God’s people by virtue of their baptisms. Oduyoye notes that reciprocity and mutuality is crucial for both men and women who minister to God’s people by forming strong partnerships through their respective vocations and ministries, by virtue of their baptisms. This thesis argues that a comparison of the views of Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Mercy Amba Oduyoye on Christian ministry reveals similarities based on a shared experience of being women within a male-dominated Christian church and differences emanating from the different contexts within which they practice theology, namely, that of Euro-American feminist theology and that of African women’s theology. It is argued that there are significant differences between feminist theology and African women’s theology, with reference to their context, rhetoric, experiences and modes of expression. A critical assessment of Oduyoye’s notion of Christian ministry as a “partnership of both men and women” reveals that there is an internal problem within African theology. The predicament within which African women theologians find themselves is that they have to struggle not only against patriarchy in church and society but also against the remaining distortions within what is deemed to be a more progressive theology. African women theologians acknowledge their solidarity with African theologians but also identify fundamental flaws within African theology. African women theologians are therefore engaged in a battle on more than one side. They need to unmask and support at the same time. On the other hand, it is clear that Fiorenza is far less critical of the feminist movement, from which she derives the term “feminist hermeneutics”. She is, of course, quite aware of the various and successive strands of the feminist movement, but she remains at least sympathetic to this movement and seeks to explore its significance for biblical scholarship and especially the Roman Catholic Church, of which she is a member. She recognises the need to complement the (sometimes reductionist) secular manifestations of feminism by highlighting the oppressive but also the potentially liberative role which religious traditions may still have in a secularised civil society. One may therefore conclude that African women’s theology remains distinct from other feminist theologies. In a similar way, African-American womanist theologians have insisted that their situation is distinct from that of Euro-American women in what is described as the “triple” oppression of black women: being women, relatively poor, black and formerly enslaved. This calls for further reflection on the similarities and differences between African-American womanist theology and African women’s theology. Important differences which come to mind here are the legacy of slavery, differences in economic status, and military power. African women are often engaged in a struggle to secure a sustainable livelihood in ways that African-American women are not. More importantly, the relationship between American black theology and womanist theology deserves further attention in this regard.